On Tuesday, Aziza Mai and her two daughters living in Multan were victimized by two men who threw acid on them. There are thousands of women like Aziza Mai who live in constant fear and are often subjected to excruciating violence; their scars a constant reminder of their tragedies. Across Pakistan, in Quetta, the Hazara community was once again targeted in a bomb blast that killed 6 people. Paradoxically these helpless and cursed minorities are a force that many in Pakistan have not fully come to understand. As Pakistan hobbles towards its first democratic transfer of powers, women and minority groups have a significant role in realizing this dream.
There are a total of 36 million women in Pakistan amounting to 42% of the total voters, but they are subjected to many obstacles in the registration of their voters. The patriarchal set-up in Pakistan re-enforces female voters as offensive towards their families’ pride and status. In the last 25 years, the number of women voters with respect to male voters has been dwindling and currently approximately 10 million female voters are missing from voter lists. As for female candidates, the path is even more tough. Although it is encouraging to see Bushra Gohar, Saniya Naz, Hajiani Lanjo and Badam Zari stand up for democracy in the deeply conflicted zones of Pakistan, Gullana Bibi’s withdrawal from the race shows the gravity of security threats. Political parties have mainly had a two-sided approach on this issue. They often like to use women and other minority groups as charity cases to draw compassion from the masses but do little to empower them. Last September, the ECP proposed re-polling at stations where the female turnout was less than 10%. What would have ensured better women participation in elections was actually turned down by all political parties.
While minorities on their own may not have much power individually, but they can have a serious impact on the electoral turnout. With a strength of 2.77 million and a significant presence in 13 districts of Sindh and 2 in Punjab, studies claim that non-Muslims can change electoral results if they choose to support a particular candidate or party. Unfortunately, rights of the minorities have been infringed on multiple occasions. They have suffered from serious security shortfalls which have cost them the lives of their leaders and representatives in the government. Places of worship of Ahmadis, Shias have been attacked; hundreds of people have been brutally murdered by extremists taking law into their hands. The Joseph Colony incident has left an impact into the minds of minorities who are increasingly choosing to emigrate from Pakistan. Those who continue to hold ground will remember these atrocities and the subsequent responses of the government in the May 11th election.
If Pakistan has to shift paths to one of development and prosperity, its leaders have to make sure that the change they bring in the political, economy and social spheres is inclusive. Men, women, Christians, Ahmadis all have qualities which complete us as a society and a nation and therefore no one should be sidelined in making Pakistan a more equitable and just society.